Thursday, April 23, 2009

She's been given the gift of life

The media has been very much on board by covering Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness events during the month of April. Newspapers, TV and radio are being saturated with coverage about the importance of organ donation and registering to be an organ donor. This event in Langley, British Columbia is just one of thousands of similar activities in communities all across North America. All of this publicity has got to have an least I hope so.

Heart recipient Langley resident Diane Baker spoke at the BC Transplant conference at the Langley Events Center on Monday.
Photo: John GORDON/Langley Times

By Monique Tamminga - Langley Times

Diane Baker is alive today because someone else’s heart is beating in her chest.

For nearly five years now, the single mother of two now-grown children has woken up every morning and thanked her donor and her donor’s family for giving her the gift of life.

She’s seen both her kids graduate from high school and, recently, from universities.

“There are no words to adequately describe how profoundly awesome the gift of life is,” Baker told a crowd at the launch of BC Transplant’s organ donor awareness week, held at the new Langley Events Center on Monday.

Numerous transplant recipients, and those still waiting for organs, attended the kick-off, including Langley Township councillor Charlie Fox, whose wife’s kidney was a match to give him a second chance at life. She was able to give her kidney to her husband and he’s already back working for the Township, less than two months later

Baker’s heart never worked properly. Until five years ago, she thought it was normal to hear your heart beating all the time.

One day, after Baker celebrated her 49th birthday, she fainted while reading in bed. Her daughter Laura came to say goodnight and as the two chatted for a couple minutes, Diane went faint.

The very proud single mother of two asked her son Evan to drive her to emergency.

Baker had always had heart problems, being sent for angiograms with a heart that beat erratically. This came despite living a healthy lifestyle, both trying to keep as active as her heart would let her and eating well.

When she went into ER, doctors gave her a pacemaker because her heart was only beating 30 times a minute. She was told to go home and be active. She tried and couldn’t.

Four months later she ended up in emergency again and was sent for a heart biopsy where she was finally given a proper diagnosis. Sadly, that diagnosis was fatal.

Cardiac sorcoidosis with congestive heart failure, was what she was told.

“Virtually overnight, it seemed I was dying,” she said.

“I could only walk about 10 feet before I had to stop to catch my breath.”

The rare disease attacks the heart muscle.

“Usually, a person should have a hole in their heart the size of the tip of a finger. Mine was the size of a mandarin orange,” she said.

At first, she was told she wasn’t a candidate for a new heart.

Doctors believed the sacroid would attack her heart. Through all of it she was determined to stay alive for her kids’ sake.

But something in Baker refused to even think of death.

On the morning the hospital called to say they had a heart ready for her she told them she didn’t think she could go because she didn’t have a ride.

“I packed my suitcase but couldn’t lift it,” she said.

“When the paramedics arrived, I came to the door and asked for a minute.

“I hugged my kids and said see you tomorrow. I sent them off to school,” she said.

“I just didn’t believe it was happening,” she said.

But it did happen and she’s walking, living proof.

There are currently 11 Langley residents waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, including youth activist Todd Hauptman who is waiting for a kidney.

Richard Brown was also in the audience, breathing easier thanks to a double lung transplant nearly two years ago.

In total, 69 Langley residents are alive today thanks to an organ transplant.

In Langley, volunteers will be in malls, and in other locations throughout City and Township “to encourage the people of Langley to register their decision (about organ donation),” says BC Transplant spokesperson Lisa Despins.

While many people in the province remember the former method of registering as a donor, a decal on a driver’s licence, that system has been gone since 1997, Despins said.

BC Transplant wanted the system to be open not just to motorists, but to everyone, and to make it easier for medical staff to get the information in a time of emergency.

Today’s online system allows anyone to register, and allows them to specify which organs they wish or donate, a distinction which was not available with the old driver’s licence decal system.

“People can see, in black and white, what your wish is,” said Despins.

Langley is a little above the average, with 17 per cent of the population registering, while in Kelowna 23 per cent of residents have registered.

There are some 300 British Columbians on the transplant list, as recipients.

In 2008, a record 266 transplants were performed in British Columbia, the third consecutive record-setting year.

Contributing to this success was a historical high in the number of organs available from people who have died, and a 42 per cent increase in the number of donors from the year previous.

More information, and online registration as a donor is available at BC Transplant, or call 1-800-663-6189.

“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”

Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network
For other Canadian provinces click here

In the United States, be sure to find out how to register in your state at or Download Donor Cards from OrganDonor.Gov

In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register

In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register

Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves

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